“There are things we can do to make people’s lives better after sport. We need to show concern for people, to show more support for people, whether it be rugby league, Aussie rules or boxing.
“I feel this is something I should do. I’ve made some mistakes in my life and this is a good thing I can do to give back.
“I wouldn’t change anything in my career, but I went through that crazy sickness where my wife had to look after me 24 hours a day.
“I know there are a lot of people out there with brain damage that [need that care]. If I can have some kind of impact to help, I want to try to do that.”
Fenech underwent heart surgery in Thailand last month and became totally reliant on his wife to look after him during his recovery.
“I know that happens to a lot of people [suffering CTE]. I didn’t enjoy it one bit having my wife help me into the shower, hold one arm up, hold a bottle. I would hate to be in that position when I’m older … if that was me at 70, I wouldn’t want to be here.
“I’d tell my wife, ‘Give me some Stilnox, I’m going to bed’. I’m not going to put my family through that …
“If it’s just me suffering, I’m not bothered one bit. But when I see my wife and children and friends are suffering, it’s a whole different ball game.
“This is a really important topic and we need to do more to look after people.”
Earlier this year, CTE was found for the first time in Australia in the brains of two former elite rugby league players, one of whom the Herald identified as Canterbury Bulldogs legend Steve Folkes. On the weekend, the Herald revealed Peter Moscatt, a member of Easts’ 1972 grand final team, was also diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease.
We are incredibly grateful for Jeff’s pledge. It is a powerful statement that he recognises that there is an important issue here.
Associate Professor Michael Buckland
The finding, by RPA’s Head of Neuropathology and the Australian Sports Brain Bank, Associate Professor Michael Buckland, has generated significant interest among administrators of contact sports and resulted in a spike in brain donation pledges.
CTE is a degenerative brain disease found in some sportspeople and others exposed to repetitive brain injuries, such as military personnel and some victims of domestic violence. It can only be diagnosed accurately at autopsy examination, and during life its symptoms are often mistaken for Alzheimer’s disease by treating doctors.
The ASBB is a joint venture between Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Department and the Brain and Mind Centre, University of Sydney. It was established in March 2018 and is the first international partner of the well-known Boston University Research CTE Centre and the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
Fenech, Professor Buckland and Herald columnist Peter FitzSimons will be at a public seminar on concussion and CTE featuring Dr Christopher Nowinski, a former professional wrestler and founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation in the United States, on Wednesday.
“We are incredibly grateful for Jeff’s pledge,” Professor Buckland said. “It is a powerful statement that he recognises that there is an important issue here that needs to be independently investigated.
“This is a decision to help the next generation and the generations that follow. We owe it to our children to appropriately acknowledge and address the long-term issues of head injury in sport.”
Buckland has urged those considering a donation to go to www.brainbank.org.au
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.